Striking a work-life balance

one-fifth of staff at Courtenay HR work on a flexible basis. Since one of the
three company directors had a child a few years ago and wanted to combine work
with motherhood, the company decided to make flexible working an option for its
18-strong workforce, provided it did not have an adverse affect on the
business. Jane Robson, company director, and Vicky McFarlane, head of business
development, tell Personnel Today how it has worked for them.

did you decide to work flexibly?

I wanted to carry on working but also wanted to spend time with my child.
McFarlane: After having a baby I wanted to work on a part-time basis. I
was a director so I resigned to be a consultant to enable me to come back

difference does it make to your working life?

I would have found it very hard to find the right balance. I would also have
had to compromise with the nannies I had.
McFarlane: I would have left the company otherwise.

is your working week now?

I work Monday to Thursday. I’ve had to change the way that I work and have to
be out of the office for 5.30pm to relieve the nanny. Sometimes I work again at
8pm when my child is in bed.
McFarlane: I do three full days, Monday to Wednesday.

are the benefits of flexible working for the company?

We are a largely female organisation of women in our 30s. It’s a case of either
losing people because we can’t accommodate them when they have families or
being flexible. There’s always a war for talent. This means I’ve retained good
McFarlane: Increasingly, people are aware of the work life balance and
more women in particular are wanting to combine a career and a family.

does the process work in your company?

There is not a formal process as we look at it on a case by case basis. You ask
questions like: How will it affect the business? How do you still do what needs
to be done? How will it affect the team?
McFarlane: People raise it on an individual basis. 

it only for people with children?

No, everyone can apply. For example, we had a consultant whose personal
circumstances changed and she wanted to have Mondays off because of her partner
– nothing to do with children.
McFarlane: People can want a better work-life balance apart from just
those with children. Many staff want to further their professional development.
We have people doing professional qualifications such as their CIPD and it
might be that we let them leave early on particular evenings.

there been any problems?

Only once has it caused any issues. When I first came back and was working
flexibly, a client couldn’t understand my hours and wanted me in the office to
do something on a Friday. You have to let people know how you work and how to
contact you. Even if I’m working normal hours, I can’t be available nine to
McFarlane: Not really.

can companies ensure flexible working is a success?

It works well if managed well. You have to have constant communication and
honesty from both sides.
McFarlane: You’ve got to get buy-in from senior management. If it’s not
supported wholeheartedly it won’t work. It requires good team work, so you need
to iron out any resentments there might be from members of staff who don’t work
flexibly. You need to help them understand it won’t have a negative impact on
them. And explain that working part-time means that people only get paid

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